Greg Carney

Greg Carney


Greg Carney completed his doctorate in Pharmacology and Therapeutics, with a focus on pharmacoepidemiology at the University of British Columbia. His PhD thesis examined the comparative safety and effectiveness of medications commonly used to aid smoking cessation. Greg has worked for the Therapeutics Initiative since 2003, and is currently Co-Chair of the PharmacoEpidemiology Group (PEG). Greg has 20 years of experience in analysing health care databases to evaluate pharmaceutical policy and program changes, and in conducting drug safety and effectiveness studies. His current research focus is on the implementation and evaluation of physician audit and feedback programs using randomized designed delay trials.

Trainee Profile

PhD Student from 2013-2019
One of the most important things I’ve learned from working with CNODES is that to successfully conduct high-quality pharmacoepidemiologic studies, you need a research team with a diversity of expertise.

Tell us a bit about your background and how you ended up studying and working in this field.

I completed my BSc in Economics from the University of Victoria in 2000. During the co-op portion of my program, I had the opportunity to observe people working in several positions within the provincial government, and I looked to continue my career in government after completing my undergraduate degree. The BC Ministry of Health hired me as an analyst within the PharmaCare division in January 2001, where I learned a lot about pharmaceutical policy and working with administrative data. In 2003, I left the Ministry of Health and started my own consulting company, focusing mainly on health data warehousing/IT projects. In 2007, Dr. Colin Dormuth hired me as an analyst at the newly formed Pharmacoepidemiology Group (PEG) of the Therapeutics Initiative (TI) at UBC and I’ve worked here ever since. As for my decision to start a PhD, I had always planned to go back to grad school; it just happened much later than I anticipated.

Please provide a summary of your doctoral research.

My PhD thesis examined the comparative safety and effectiveness of medications commonly used to aid smoking cessation. Although research has shown that these medications have a moderate short-term benefit as a quitting aid, substantial cardiovascular and neuropsychiatric safety concerns have been identified in adverse reporting databases. These warnings led to prescription label warnings by Health Canada and the US FDA. However, recent trials have indicated that the safety warnings may be without merit. My research used data from the BC Smoking Cessation Program, which provided a unique opportunity for me to access recorded use of nicotine replacement therapies, many of which are available over the counter (without prescription). I was also able to use the US MarketScan database, which contains health records for over 100 million individuals. Access to these data meant that my study was the largest observational study on the topic.

Tell us about your experiences working with CNODES.

I have been working with CNODES since its creation in 2011.  My first project was working as the BC Analyst on a study led by Dr. Kris Filion looking at the association between the use of proton-pump inhibitors (PPI) and community-acquired pneumonia. The project was very successful and set the precedent for how future CNODES projects would be organized and managed. Dr. Filion set the bar high!

After this first project, I continued to work on several other CNODES projects as an analyst or senior analyst. I also had the opportunity to lead two analyst workshops at the CNODES semi-annual meetings. This was a great experience, being able to participate in a knowledge exchange with the best pharmacoepi programmers from across the country. Many of the materials generated in these workshops are still being used today in the Network and beyond. Most recently, I had the opportunity to join a CNODES project as the Site Liaison, and I look forward to this next step.

How has CNODES impacted your studies or career trajectory?

There are many challenges and opportunities in pharmacoepidemiology. As a relatively young field of science, researchers make methodological mistakes, and we continue to learn from them. Working with, and learning from, the research experts in CNODES has certainly made me a much better scientist. One of the most important things I’ve learned from working with CNODES is that to successfully conduct high-quality pharmacoepidemiologic studies, you need a research team with a diversity of expertise. This probably explains why attempts to automate pharmacoepi studies have failed. Groups have tried to create automated macros or software programs where you can click a drug name and an outcome and the program will automatically process the data and spit out an answer. But automation fails because you cannot fit every pharmacoepi study into a shoebox. With automated programs, you are much more likely to make mistakes and produce flawed results. Instead, you really need a group like CNODES—a network of researchers thinking about every aspect of how these drugs are used, what possible biases exist, and how to minimize confounding. I feel privileged to be able to work and collaborate with the people in CNODES.

If you have specific career goals for the coming years, could you share a couple?

A big role of the Therapeutics Initiative (TI) at UBC is to provide the BC Ministry of Health and health care professionals with independent evidence-based information on health therapies. My career goal over the next five years is to continue working as a senior scientist with the TI, advancing their programs and collaborations, and working on building on our relationship with the Pharmaceutical Services Division in the province.

Outside of work and studies, what are you passionate about?

A passion of mine outside of pharmaceutical research life is implementing new technologies to aid with animal conservation. Along with two business partners, we have designed and patented a poacher detection system that we’ve installed in many rugged environments worldwide. This has taken us from the remote Siberian mountains of Russia to aid in the protection of snow leopards, to the Galapagos islands working with local experts in giant tortoise conservation. In Russia, for example, the devices are set up in several of the country’s vast national parks to detect poachers and alert rangers in real time. To date, we know of at least four incidences of poachers being caught by using the technology.

Is there anything else you’d like to share about yourself or your work?

My doctoral research will be published soon in the form of several journal articles. In the meantime, anyone interested in reading more, can access my thesis through the UBC Library open collection of theses.

CNODES Projects

CNODES Online Lectures